Getting back to the core of what pastoral care really is
We all have a mental picture of how we want to lead. Potentially we project what our leadership might look like when placed against a significant voice that has influenced our model of thinking. The people we look up to, role models and experiences, both bad and good, have a huge impact on the formation of what we believe leading sounds, and feels, like.
Whichever way you look at it, the comparative narrative is an unkind voice.
In fact, the model drives everything. In a recent workshop, I asked a group of senior educational leaders to tell me both a bad and a good story of leadership from a personal experience. None of the stories were hard to elicit, and when I asked when they occurred, the emotion while recounting them belied the fact these events were experienced several decades ago. Such is the power of the model. The good stories framed their desire to incorporate their positive experiences into their practice. The bad experiences simply highlighted a leader, in each case, who embodied the full and damaging blast of someone lost in their own insecurity. Insecurity kills leaders and churches (people). But that is another story.
Success and self-critique
Thanks to snacking on social media, perhaps never before have we been so influenced by external models that are introduced to us by a world that celebrates success by measuring how fast, how far, how big, how much and how shiny.
The values context for successful pastoral leadership is fraught with similar subjective metrics that bear little or no resemblance to actual success when applied into a faith/ people setting. I would venture to suggest they bear no influence on the path Jesus set you off on, yet we allow them to grind at our calling and our self-evaluation.
Reinhard Bonnke’s call was to speak to the millions, and bless him for doing what God has told him to do. Personally, I feel the pleasure of God when I do it to ’the least of these’. Oh, but then maybe I should be doing it to more of the least of these? So more, not least, and least by whose measure? Now my head hurts!
In 2010, a UK adventure company Into The Blue commissioned a survey of 1,032 sixteen-year-olds. The Independent newspaper published the results on their website.1 The survey was attempting to discover why an increased number of teenagers were purchasing their ‘Superstar’ singing experiences and dance lessons. The survey simply asked the teenagers: “What would you like to do for your career?”
More than half of the teens did not want a career; they just wanted to be famous. The survey then asked those who sought fame to name their role models. Supermodel Kate Moss was top, followed in order by footballer Wayne Rooney, pop star Lady Gaga, and Celebrity Big Brother star Nicola T. Tycoon. Sir Richard Branson was fifth, chosen by forty-three per cent of the teenagers. If you stand back and look at how we have adorned some churches and church leaders with fame, fortune, and celebrity, you might be forgiven for believing that similar thinking has influenced faith culture.
One of my favourite voices is Walter Brueggemann, an American theologian and professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. He is widely considered one of the most influential Old Testament scholars of the last several decades, and is often quoted as saying that the church has adopted military consumerism.2 That is to say, we have bought into the lie of a successful model that we are going from strength to strength and wealth to wealth. Apparently, if you’re not growing on the chart you are just not succeeding.
I find the rise of the comparative competition narrative in our churches, and in society in general, is the new ugly epidemic. Whichever way you look at it, the comparative narrative is an unkind voice. It drives people to try and be what they are not, and to accumulate what will not make them content.
I recently ran a series of workshops on leadership well-being for faith-based leaders where we looked at the specifics of how delightfully individual God made each of us. Uniquely gifted. Beautifully fitted for purpose. I concluded that we constantly need reminding of who we are in his pleasure, under his sovereign watchful plan and eye. This is why it is vital for pastoral leadership health to get back to the core of what pastoral care really is. The comparative narrative has got nothing to do with leading well. This group had simply forgotten it.
Hearing God’s approval
When Jesus went to John to be baptised in the Jordan, John first tries to dissuade him, but then gives in (Matthew 3). As we know, Jesus follows the prescribed protocols and the Holy Spirit descends on him. Then the author relates that the voice of God proclaims: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). I find this passage intriguing. Jesus knew who he was, and John knew who Jesus was, so why the public affirmation? The passage immediately before John’s account relays: “But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism…” (Matthew 3:7). So perhaps it was for the religious authorities. I think God was setting a model in place that we need to be reminded of in our comparative world.
When was the last time you heard: “This is my daughter/ my son in whom I am well pleased”? Roughly translated that means: “You rock. I love what you do. Thank you for caring for my sheep, for feeding them so diligently, for fighting off the bears and lions, for leaving the ninety-nine and going after that one who needs my grace right now.”
The Apostle Paul twice says simply imitate me as I follow Christ.3 A true comparative narrative! Or maybe we need to learn to speak far more deeply and regularly into the model in who were we made. Created in his image— pure Trinitarian theology where the relational model is paramount.
I think we live in a world that desperately needs encouraging, comforting and edifying, to balance the dislocation that comparative narrative causes. We can become pulled down by theological theory and bombarded by public opinion of what our churches and pastoral leadership need to look like. For me, I trust the sovereignty of God. This is his game, his rules, and his gifts. If you find yourself struggling to know what this pastoral leadership model is all about, stop comparing yourself to other leaders and just ask yourself this simple question: “How do I love to be led?” Now go try that.
1. “Fame the career choice for half of 16-year-olds”, Alison Kershaw: Independent. ind.pn/2xtXpEC. 2. “Walter Brueggemann’s Coercive Collectivism”, Mark Tooley: Juicy Ecumenism. bit.ly/2vAyC02. 3. 1 Corinthians 1:11; 4:16.
- Who has been the “significant voice” that has most influenced your model of leadership?
- John says, “…we constantly need reminding of who we are in [God’s] pleasure, under his sovereign watchful plan and eye.” Do you know a leader who needs some gentle affirmation that God is well pleased with them? How can you encourage them today?
- How do you love to be led? Does that influence the way you lead others?
This article first appeared in the Oct/Nov 2017 issue of NZ Baptist magazine, can be viewed online at http://www.baptistmag.org.nz/leadership/what-model-do-you-drive, and has been republished here with their permission.